It’s a stunning image that offers an idea of what our sun would look like when it dies.
Taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the image reveals the intricate and ethereal beauty of the iconic Ring Nebula in detail never seen before.
Also known as Messier 57, the fascinating object lies about 2,600 light-years from Earth and was born from the remains of a dying star.
It is this expulsion of stellar material that gives the cosmic masterpiece its distinctive structure and vibrant colors.
Like fireworks, the different chemical elements in the nebula emit light of specific colors. This then results in exquisite and colorful objects, allowing astronomers to study the chemical evolution of these objects in detail.
Wow: This stunning image of the iconic Ring Nebula offers a glimpse of what our sun might look like when it dies
A close-up of part of the nebula shows that the ring consists of a large number of small clumps. They contain molecular hydrogen and are much cooler and denser than the rest of the nebula. Some of the groups begin to develop tails (bottom right), behaving like planet-sized comets.
WHAT IS THE RING NEBULA?
Messier 57, or the Ring Nebula, is one of the most iconic and beautiful planetary nebulae known to astronomy.
It is very popular with astrophotographers on Earth because it is angled favorably from our perspective, meaning it can be captured with only a small telescope.
The nebula lies south of the bright star Vega, which forms the famous Summer Triangle asterism.
It was discovered by the French astronomer Antoine Darquier de Pellepoix in January 1779.
The hope is that the new images from JWST will give experts an unprecedented opportunity to study and understand the complex processes that shaped the Ring Nebula.
Located in the constellation Lyra, the object is popular with stargazers because even a small telescope will reveal the “donut-shaped” glowing gas structure of the Ring Nebula that gave it its name.
Albert Zijlstra, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Manchester, said: “We are amazed at the detail in the images, better than ever before.
We always knew that planetary nebulae were pretty. What we see now is spectacular.
Dr. Mike Barlow, Principal Scientist for the JWST Ring Nebula Project, added: “The James Webb Space Telescope has given us an extraordinary view of the Ring Nebula that we have never seen before.”
“The high-resolution images not only show the intricate details of the expanding shell of the nebula, but also reveal the inner region around the central white dwarf with exquisite clarity.
“We are witnessing the final chapters in the life of a star, a preview of the Sun’s distant future, if you will, and the JWST observations have opened a new window into understanding these impressive cosmic events.
“We can use the Ring Nebula as our laboratory to study how planetary nebulae form and evolve.”
What makes planetary nebulae like Messier 57 so captivating is their variety of shapes and patterns.
These often include delicate, glowing rings, expanding bubbles, or wispy, intricate clouds.
Mesmerizing: Taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the image reveals the intricate and ethereal beauty of the iconic Ring Nebula in detail never seen before.
Unprecedented detail: This image shows a close-up of the southern part of the nebula’s outer halo, just outside its main ring. In the background, thousands of more distant faint galaxies can be seen, some with clear spiral structure.
The hope is that the new JWST images provide experts with an unprecedented opportunity to study and understand the complex processes that shaped the Ring Nebula.
The patterns are the consequence of the complex interaction of different physical processes that are not yet well understood.
Dr Nick Cox, Co-Director Scientist, said: ‘These images have more than just aesthetic appeal; They provide a wealth of scientific insight into the processes of stellar evolution.
“By studying the Ring Nebula with JWST, we hope to gain a deeper understanding of the life cycles of stars and the elements they release into the cosmos.”
The images were released today by an international team of astronomers led by Professor Barlow, Dr Cox and Professor Zijlstra.
Sections of the nebula: What makes planetary nebulae like Messier 57 so captivating is their variety of shapes and patterns
Webb launched from French Guiana on Christmas Day 2021 with the goal of looking back in time to the dawn of the universe.
Webb launched from the Guiana Space Center on Christmas Day 2021 with the goal of looking back in time to the dawn of the universe.
Astronomers hope the $10bn (£7.4bn) observatory can reveal what happened just a couple of hundred million years after the Big Bang.
The observatory is set to spend more than a decade in an area of balanced gravity between the sun and Earth called L2.
While you’re there, you’ll explore the universe in the infrared spectrum so you can peer through the clouds of gas and dust where stars are born.
The James Webb Telescope: NASA’s $10 billion telescope is designed to detect light from the first stars and galaxies.
The James Webb Telescope has been described as a ‘time machine’ that could help unlock the secrets of our universe.
The telescope will be used to observe the first galaxies born in the early universe more than 13.5 billion years ago and to observe the sources of stars, exoplanets and even the moons and planets of our solar system.
The big telescope, which has already cost more than $7bn (£5bn), is seen as a successor to the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.
The James Webb Telescope and most of its instruments have an operating temperature of about 40 Kelvin, about minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 Celsius).
It is the largest and most powerful orbiting space telescope in the world, capable of looking back 100-200 million years after the Big Bang.
The orbiting infrared observatory is designed to be about 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA likes to think of James Webb as a successor to Hubble rather than a replacement, since the two will be working in tandem for a while.
The Hubble Telescope was launched on April 24, 1990 via the Space Shuttle Discovery from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It circles the Earth at a speed of approximately 17,000 mph (27,300 kph) in a low Earth orbit at approximately 340 mile altitude.